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One common way to take out computers on the internet is the denial of service attack. It is very simple: you flood the machine either with raw data, as in mail and port bombing, or you hit it with hanging questions that force it to think. Each one is no big deal, but when a hundred thousand of them hit, the machine becomes neurotic and cannot tell real data from garbage. As a result, it slows all data down (equally, thank god!) and for all practical purposes goes offline. Something similar happens to both humans and our species as a whole with depression.
First, we deny depression as a species. We are obsessive about diagnosis, analysis, documentation and medication of our problems. Even obscure maladies like anal warts receive reams of focused attention by high-trained and high-paid specialists, conjecturing and thinking and experimenting. In this we can see the old truism "less is more", because the storm of interest in depression in industrial nations has, like a wind blowing papers in a constellation of chaos, ignored what's at the center of the event: depression is brought on by feelings of disconnection from the world.
We know almost nothing about depression and how it can afflict populations as a whole. We do not know, for example, that depressed people often exist by having such lowered expectations that they are able to tolerate mediocrity as a positive. A society that is depressed influences every individual life within it with its depression, but because that depression is accepted, does not provide a pathway for noticing or critiquing this depression. A common resopnse: "How can a society be depressed?" -- or more likely: how can a depressed society have any values?
Societal depression remains a large influence on our modern lives, as many suffer from it and many more exhibit a subtle and pervasive form of it that never hits extremes but remains constant like a droning background noise. The only way for something this widely distributed to go unnoticed is if it is so widely distributed that it appears "normal." (Looking for normal is dangerous thinking, because normal is third state to reality and observer, where if one looks for logicality in behavior, that which does not fit a norm can be seen to be healthy and unhealthy norms can be noted as undesired. Alas this thought is far from our mental worlds in the status quo.)
Second, we deny depression as individuals. Depression is brought on by feelings of not having a place in the world, and these occur on two levels: (1) the degree of personal organization in an individual enabling them to do whatever it is that will make life so meaningful it seems a fair trade for death and (2) the degree to which the human world reflects what one sees of reality. A world that is too much real becomes boring, and one that is too much unreal becomes frustrating in its insistence on self-destruction. The two levels influence each other, in that an unstable person will see the world as threatening where it is not, and a threatening world will destabilize the balanced person but go unnoticed in the already-destabilized person, because they are too caught up in their own drama to accurately assess the world.
A common depressed person response is to disclaim the ability to involve themselves in any form of change. "So why should I care about the species, after all? I'm going to live my nobody life, have a few pleasures, and head to the hills in some ignominious and/or biologically repellent death, so why should this concern me?" When one thinks only of one, there are no answers for this question that are satisfying. Of course all you should do is ensure that there is enough space for you to have your pleasures before dying. But do we respect anyone, and think highly of anyone, who holds such a view? When we spell it out in those terms, we realize that to think that way would classify us in our own view as selfish wastes of oxygen, much less in the view of those we respect.
This shows us the "deepening cycle" of depression: the depressed person by nature of being depressed rejects all those solutions of the category that might solve the depression. Societal depression causes a sense of futility, which causes people to become more self-obsessed than before, and upon noticing that self-obsession, they begin to think badly of themselves. This engenders further depression and low self-esteem, which ironically might be the cause of the problem: societies do not become depressed without first become schizoid by insisting on the "reality" of a preferred view of existence (morality, futurism, socialization) that by the nature of its inaccuracy causes endless frustration because in public, we must act on it, even if we know it is not accurate. People suffering under societal depression chase solutions in themselves, and thus make the malady worse.
Depression at this point forms an excuse for giving up. We withdraw into our negative self-image, reward ourselves for small things, and do not change our behavior. As we notice more dysfunction externally to us, the cycle of our internal dysfunction and self-blame worsens. We make life easy for ourselves with our justifications, and then because those justifications are on a level of self-serving function, loathe ourselves for being so short-sighted and selfish. The result gives the cycle momentum and depression increases. At this point, depression also becomes a useful excuse: "I would do something, but I am dysfunctional, so I am not ordained by the gods to be able to do anything."
Soon people may understand that humanity is not yet doomed, although if we do not alter our course, it is clear that we will face a slow erosion into a former republic, a powerless and unproductive state in which no ideas lasting more than ten minutes are produced. Examples of this type of fallen society cover the earth, having dropped out of history when their input became irrelevant or communications lapsed, and now undoubtedly pleasant places to live where no greatness has a home. Futility and dysfunction go hand in hand. With the advent of globalism, however, we are no longer speaking of a single society fading to such a state, but all of humanity.
Yet our prediction of doom keeps us depressed. We can codify this cycle in three steps:
If we accept the premise that our society is depressed because its individuals are depressed, we must then ask ourselves if this can be reversed. The shockingly obvious truth is that depression is a brilliant liminal state because it is so easily reversed; a sequence of even small victories turns it around. And is our society depressed? Ideas like original sin, like the monetary equivalent in capitalism, like morality which seeks to protect individuals more than it seeks to do what is right by all, a species so deranged that it will pollute its only environment, and a society that rewards money (tangible) over character (intangible) -- these are all symptoms of an evenly-distributed, pervasive, entrenched depression.
Those who become aware of this fact literally have a binary choice: move forward past the depression, or stagnate in it. When we stagnate, we do not confront the depression head-on and thus assimilate it into our personalities, making it invisible to us as we get increasingly bitter. It becomes a part of us, this depression, and we are then unable to get a handle on it or even track its progress until a friend tells us we're looking better or worse than the last day they observed us. Moving forward past depression, like accepting mortality and natural selection, is the fundamental elective that confronts the modern adult. All greater learning and profundity of thought requires getting past this barrier.
Interestingly, those who choose to move past the depression experience an almost super-human increase in internal strength. They know that their cause is probably lost, but that if a butterfly's wings can cause a storm off the east coast, the power of a human's ideas and efforts could have vast implications. We who adopt this viewpoint are victors in our resistance because as long as we live, dissent and thrive, the crowd cannot claim (in its depression) that its ideas were "the only way" and it's too bad it didn't work out, but (shrug) what else could they have done? We ruin their ability to claim that they had no other choice. We thwart the uniformity of their social vision by reminding people that there is another way, and thus we dare to rise above like Icarus, and are hated by those who wish a hostile sun would melt our wings.
We are victory because our resistance is a refutation of the inevitability argument of those who, in the grips of depression, want to export that depression to others. Why do failing societies invade nations like Iraq in order to bring "the good news" of liberal democracy and capitalism to them, even though it wrecked the host nation? Why is it that religious proselytizers announce "the good news" and then talk about death? These are people who have become depressed, recessed into their own self-identity and egos, and therefore are committed to destroying all others who aren't afflicted by that addiction. We are victory when we refute this by existing, and by producing a vision of life that even as it accepts the worst life can offer is NOT depressed but instead constructive and formidable in its hopeful vision of future, even if nurture and murder are equally represented in its palette.
On this site, the Crowd and its machinations are often discussed. But properly, we can see these people as caught in a cycle of depression that keeps them from seeing the simple reality of life. They have become destructive because inside of themselves they see only destruction, and the way out of that destruction requires going through the morally threatening world of assessing difficult solutions and possible futures outside of what they know. They must cast aside the familiar in order to escape depression, but they fear the unfamiliar (and failure) more than they are willing to escape depression. With this view, we can extend compassion to them, although we know that we will not hesitate to kill them and oppress them as necessary. They have a better future outside of depression, even if only a few survive!
Our depression originates in this schizoid reailty: we have a technological-consensual "truth" upon which we all pretend to agree, and then an underlying actual truth which we can see in mathematics, physics and philosophy. That truth however requires concentration, intelligence and devotion to finding out the real answer, which is not something our society values, since it is based on an ethic of convenience in which what individuals prefer is more important than its consequences in reality. Like our depression, this worsens the more we try to fix it, because to act against this illusion requires we leave the "comfort zones" of what we know and move into uncharted territory.
It requires we give up a comfortable but depressing existence and pick something with challenge to it, which naturally seems "illogical" because in functional terms, of course, we all desire safety and wealth. To cure our depression requires we look at intangibles, not material or personal ideas, and that requires we venture into a symbolic "Land of the Dead" where the symbols of our dreams and nightmares and hidden inner life are explored. This is the area we fear because, being depressed, it is the source of our instability and threatens our fragile function. Is it possible that the simplest solution cures depression, which is to go into our fears and address them, instead of containing them in mental symbolism that ultimately enslaves us? Like a corrupt priest, it offers to take away our fears -- by making us addicted to its weekly pep talks and small symbolic rewards.
We are victory by resisting this, but before an individual can claim to be resisting, he or she must do two things: (1) fix depression and consequent bad thinking within his or her self, and (2) work with others on a solution. It is not enough to have a blog, to be a coffee house activist, because these roles do not involve leaving isolating within self behind; on the contrary, they increase this state of mind and thus maximize depression. The individual must heal the self and then work toward establishing this healing as part of the design of a system, which is the opposite of exporting it to individuals because it lays a groundwork instead of forcing conversions. Only the combination of these things offers the experience of dissecting depression and conquering it, as an individual, and reconstructing society to avoid societal depression; since both individual and societal depressions afflict the person in this society, only tackling both of them is the escape.
Our time may still be doomed. Humanity has not yet accepted that it is still in mortal struggle for survival, no matter how powerful its technological world seems to be. We have skated to the edge of doom with global warming, pollution, overpopulation, and cultureless mass media and culture-destroying speculative commerce without looking back, a suicidal series of acts which suggests an underlying depression so vast it is invisible. Even in the face of doom however we may raise victory by not giving in and becoming yet another person capable of critique and not action, lost in the wilderness of their own boredom and insecurity, and by moving ahead we not only save ourselves but greatly increase our chances of change. Depression means no action means certain defeat.
If you are smart enough to recognize what's wrong with this world, you are smart enough to help fix it. Almost everyone around you will try to discourage you and to convince you to join their loser group of people who await collective suicide because any other course of action is unfamiliar and scary. Others will tell you that your course of action will "oppress" those who are depressed by denying them depression, and/or life and limb. These are voices worth ignoring. Your smaller fight is to fix the world around you; your bigger fight is to overcome depression and negativity within. When you do this, the world will never look the same again, and you will see the inherent wisdom of working where others predestine themselves to failure.
May 25, 2007